Is there a role for diet in the management of arthritis?
I attended a fascinating webinar hosted by Arthritis Action last week all about whether our diets can influence the symptoms of arthritis. I’ve always been fascinated by diets and their impact on our health. Food is our body’s fuel and without it, we wouldn’t survive. Both quality and quantity of what we consume has enormous effects on how the body runs. We know that a diet high in saturated fats and sugar in particular can lead to conditions such as diabetes, heart problems, even strokes. But if you already have arthritis, is there anything you can eat more or less of which is going to help the condition?
What is arthritis?
Arthritis is a term which means ‘inflammation in a joint’. In a healthy joint, two or more bones meet. The ends of these bones are covered in a layer of cartilage which allows the bones to glide over one another when the joint is moved. In someone who has arthritis, the protective layer of cartilage has started to degenerate which over time, causes the bones in the joint to have less lubrication and therefore, the bones themselves will start to rub on each other. This can cause pain and stiffness in the affected joint. However, what causes this to happen depends on the type of arthritis you have. For example, if you have osteoarthritis (this is the most common type), this is caused by the natural wear and tear in a joint associated with age. If you have rheumatoid arthritis, this is an auto-immune condition that causes the body to mistakenly attack the joints and cause damage. Other forms of arthritis include gout, ankylosing spondylitis and psoriatic arthritis. Of all the different types of arthritis, there seems to be one common symptom – pain.
78% of people living with arthritis experience pain every day
Diet and arthritis
With so many types of arthritis and their different causes, there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach of treatment. And according to the webinar, this is also true for arthritis and diet. When it comes to diet and arthritis, it seems that there is no conclusive evidence that one thing in particular is the answer to managing its symptoms. There is lots of information about diets and arthritis on the internet but according to the Arthritis Action webinar host, much of this information is incorrect or based on myths around diet. Tomatoes, potatoes and dairy products in particular seem to come up frequently as ‘pro-inflammatory’ foods so to avoid them if suffering with arthritis. However, there have been studies demonstrating that people who still eat these foods, can reduce their blood inflammatory markers. After talking us through some of the various studies that have been done, it’s clear that most of the evidence focused on diet and arthritis has been pretty inconclusive. Maybe in the future, some more concrete evidence may arise. But it is also important to remember that diet makes up only a part of arthritic management. Keeping a healthy weight and increasing physical activity is very important. If you currently suffer from arthritis and are overweight, reducing weight is key.
Losing one pound of body weight lessens four pounds of pressure on the knees per step
It became very clear by the end of the webinar that diet and arthritis is a complex subject. But it was fascinating to listen to.
The main points I noted from the webinar were:
Arthritis affects everyone differently and so will the diet you eat
There is no specific diet that has shown to be ‘the best’ when managing symptoms of arthritis
A diet rich in omega 3 seems to a have a positive effect on people with rheumatoid arthritis but the evidence is inconsistent with people with osteoarthritis
Too much salt in the diet negatively affects the balance of the immune system
Taking vitamin D supplements is advised
Although not associated with arthritis, the Mediterranean diet has been shown to protect the cardiovascular system. Arthritis has links to cardiovascular disease so applying the Mediterranean diet principles is a good idea.
A healthy varied diet and exercise is still the best advice for arthritis
Having a good gut bacteria may be helpful but the health of good bacteria in the gut is influenced by age, drug use, malnutrition, diet, infections and stress. At the moment there is no conclusive evidence that taking probiotics helps to advance gut bacteria but it is still advisable to take them if able.
Supplements such as glucosamine can be useful but more so if taken for around 6 months – 1 year to really get the benefit.
Strength condition exercises are the best kind of physical activity as this helps muscles to grow which then helps to better support the body’s joints which is very important especially in people who suffer with arthritis
Having an adequate amount of protein in the diet is important to support muscle growth which in turn then helps to support the skeleton and the joints
With around 10 million people in the UK thought to have arthritis, and there being no current cure, I hope that in the future, further studies can highlight other ways in which to manage the condition. If you suffer with arthritis, I recommend you check out the Arthritis Action website www.arthritisaction.org.uk. They have lots of information and self-management resources and a wonderful team that can assist you with your symptoms.
I hope this information has been useful. If you have any questions or concerns, please feel free to contact me and if you know someone with arthritis, please share this blog with them. Have a great week!